The Central American nation of Belize is only a small one in physical space, but it is big on attractions. From the beach to the rainforest, and from historical sites to the latest modern hotels, restaurants and shops, you really don’t have to look far to find fun things to see and do here.
Suitable for year-round visits, and recently included on National Geographic’s list of Best Winter Trips 2018, Belize is a country you have to visit at list once. To help you plan your vacation, read on for three key things to add to your itinerary.
Hit the Water
One of the first water-based outings to organize for your trip is to Ambergris Caye, Belize. This is the largest island in the nation (it’s approximately 25 miles long) and provides one of the greatest examples of spots where you’ll want to hit the water. Located off the coast in the north of the country, and with its base being the town of San Pedro, this Caye is renowned for its beautiful beaches, great scuba diving and snorkeling, and various water sports. Whether you just want to have a swim and then lie on the sand to relax, or if you prefer to be more active, you will be well catered to here.
Originally a trade route inhabited by the Maya, today Ambergris Caye is a tourist hot spot that lures visitors with its easy access to the barrier reef which surrounds it. In particular, you need to explore Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The oldest reserve found in the country, Hol Chan’s name means “Little Channel,” which stems from it being a gap in the reef, filled with coral and sea creatures, which covers around three-square miles.
If you’re keen to see as much marine life as possible while you’re in Belize, make sure you spend time in the crystal-clear waters of Hol Chan where you have the chance to see stingrays, sharks, eels, a variety of fish, and many other species. The reserve has four distinct areas to keep an eye out for. There are the sea-grass beds, the mangroves, the reef, and “Shark Ray Alley.”
If you’re a reasonably experienced diver, one item you may want to tick off your bucket list is a dive of the Great Blue Hole. One of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Belize, this deep blue hole lies in the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, and is believed to have been created about 10,000 years ago after a cave roof tumbled in. This popular attraction is about 40 miles off the coast of Belize. During your dive, you’ll descend down approximately 410 feet below sea level, and be able to explore underwater tunnels, caverns, and rock formations.
Explore Maya Ruins
Of course, out of the water, Belize has much to offer too. In particular, no trip to this nation is complete without having seen some Maya Ruins. There are many different spots around the country where you can explore them, but at the top of your list should be the Cayo District. This area is located west of Belize City, and your primary base there will be the small town of San Ignacio.
First up, head to a cluster of ruins not far from San Ignacio, called Xunantunich. This site lies along the Mopan River, and features a temple which was once the civic ceremonial center for the Maya people. To get to the ruins you have to take a hand-cranked cable ferry, which just adds to the adventure. While on the site, you can learn about the El Castillo friezes, and study archaeological finds like ancient pottery and jewelry, and a burial ground.
A bit further area from Xunantunich, around 60 miles south, is the large Caracol Archaeological Reserve. It dates back to 1200 B.C. and is the biggest ruin site in the country. The grounds here cover approximately 30 square miles, plus there is an observatory, more than 35,000 identified buildings, and five separate plazas.
Check Out a Museum
Lastly, if you want to get even more of a history and culture fix, head to a museum. The Museum of Belize is the most popular attraction of its type in Belize, and considered the National Institute of Culture and History. Found in Belize City, and housed within a building that was at one time the country’s main jail, the site educates visitors on the story and background of Belize.
Apart from checking out a prison cell which has been kept in its original state in the museum (including keeping the graffiti written by a previous inmate), at the attraction you can also see examples of Maya jade, held within the Maya Treasures section. Furthermore, there is a gift shop on site, plus exhibits about Belize’s colonial and independence eras; some of the country’s earliest postage stamps; and explanations of key Maya sites found around the nation.